The Freedom Rides Museum commemorates the occasion with a brand new exhibit.

Advertisement

Montgomery, Alabama played an important role in the Civil Rights Movement including the Rosa Parks and the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycotts. But that wasn't the end of segregation.

On May 4, 1961, a group of brave individuals from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) boarded buses in Washington DC as a way of protesting segregation in the region's bus terminals. The interracial group of individuals under the age of 22 were called "Freedom Riders."

At stops in Anniston and Birmingham, Alabama, the riders were attacked by the Ku Klux Klan and their bus was burned. When they arrived in Montgomery on May 20, they were again attacked at the city's Greyhound Bus Station by a white mob who assualted the riders with bricks and bats. Many were injured, including Jim Zwerg and the late Representative John Lewis.

Freedom Riders Burned Bus
Credit: Underwood Archives / Contributor

But the violence pressured politicians to act. On May 29, Attorney General Robert Kennedy petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission to ban segregation. By November 1, the interstate buses and terminals were required to integrate.

The Freedom Rides Museum opened in Montgomery, Alabama, in 2011 in the former Greyhound bus station where the Freedom Riders made such an impact. The building first opened in 1951 and was integrated by 1968, operating until the 1990s when a new transportation hub opened. The government planned on demolishing it to expand the courthouse, but the Alabama Historical Commission stepped in to preserve it. It is also now an important part of the US Civil Rights Trail.

This year celebrates both the museum's 10th anniversary and the Freedom Rides 60th anniversary with special programming throughout the coming months. The museum also unveiled a 1958 Greyhound bus, a recent addition to the permanent collection. The bus was donated by the Greyhound Bus Museum in Hibbing, Minnesota.

"It was the same vintage bus that the freedom riders rode in 1961," said Dorothy Walker, the site director at the Freedom Rides Museum. "We saw the potential that it would have if we could restore it."

vintage greyhound bus Freedom Rides Museum
Credit: Freedom Rides Museum
vintage greyhoud bus interior
Credit: Freedom Rides Museum

When it arrived in Montgomery, the bus needed significant work and repairs. "It was tin rolling on wheels," joked Walker. "It didn't have any seats." Support from grants and donations helped the museum bring it back to life.

The events of the Freedom Rides may have been sixty years ago, but the legacy is still important today. "Our theme for this year is retracing the journey but passing the torch to a new generation."